Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ten Years Later: A Story About Hot Water Heaters, Signs From Above, & Making It Through


I keep a "Dave Box" in my closet - that's it, above - & until recently, it had been years since I'd rifled through it. It's too painful, even now, full of his own thoughts written in his own handwriting - notes he passed me between classes, liner notes from mix CDs he made, letters he sent me my first year of college, & my favorite, a Post-It he slipped into my hand during a passive-aggressive discussion with my freshman-year roommate about floor lamps. There are trinkets in there, too - guitar picks, a scorecard from a double-date game of laser tag, hard copies of those CD mixes. And, written on pieces of now-faded construction paper, there is a set of clues to the scavenger hunt he put together for me on my 18th birthday.

The first clue was on the driver's seat of my car, a red 1990 Dodge Colt named Rosebud. It instructed me to follow the clues he'd created, which would lead me to various places around the city - the spot outside our high school where we met during a fire drill, the spot at a nearby park where an elderly passerby yelled at us for throwing rocks at ducks (it was bread, & we were feeding them!), & the spot in the parking lot of a local hardware store where we made up after our first big argument.

The clue for the last one asked, "I wonder if those hot water heaters are still on sale?" It was a reference to a big, hand-painted sign in the hardware store's window that read "SPECIAL TODAY: HOT WATER HEATERS" - but it had been in the window every single day for... well, forever. It became a bit of an inside joke between us, & even after we'd broken up - even after he died - seeing it always gave me a half-smile.

A few years ago, though, the hardware store got a makeover. They redid everything, including their storefront, & they took away the sign. I cried the day I drove past it & saw that it was gone, likely for good, & even now, when I drive past the store, I sometimes feel a pang of sadness at the way things inevitably change over time - that tangible element of certain memories, gone forever.

To be honest, though, I hadn't thought of the sign for awhile. It's easier not to think about the things that remind me of him, & life goes on. But in December, on his 30th birthday, I went back through my Dave Box & found those scavenger hunt clues. Remembering the hot water heater, a long-ago scene I'd all but forgotten, I half-smiled at the memory again, & then I tucked it away in my brain for some other time. It was just one small story in a box full of stories that comprise my biggest story.

After his birthday, the tenth anniversary of his death loomed near. I'd been thinking of him more than usual lately, remembering what life felt like a decade ago - for him, for me, for all of us whose lives were dramatically altered by his death. With him on my mind a few days ago, I found myself stopped at a red light next to that hardware store. "I wonder if those hot water heaters are still on sale," I mused to myself, knowing the sign was long gone but looking for it anyway, just in case.

And then I spotted it: a big box, sitting quietly on a ledge in the corner of the store's window display. Just one of them. There was no sign with it, no special or sale, but there it was just the same: "HOT WATER HEATER," the box said.

My first reaction was to cry, & I started to. But as the first tears fell, I guess I changed my mind, because I started to laugh instead. I laughed & laughed, & I cried while I was laughing, sort of a crazy-person laugh, if anyone else had heard it. It all just seemed so crazy, really, that almost 10 years to the day after the anniversary of his death, I saw this small little sign from the universe, a sign I should've missed but didn't, a sign in the form of a household appliance. A sign that reminded me of a sign.

Do I believe in signs from the universe? I don't know; not usually. But that day, I just laughed & cried & kept laughing & hit the gas when the light turned green & whispered aloud, "Well done," & knew that when today came, I would be OK.

And I am.

Dave Kozak, Dec. 2, 1984 - Feb. 10, 2005
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